Philanthropists and large foundations sometimes approach their grantmaking with an agenda of their own. They have occasionally tried to impose solutions on communities that don’t agree with or want those solutions.
So it’s refreshing to learn about the methodology behind a new report from The Pittsburgh Foundation, titled “A Qualitative Study of Youth and the Juvenile Justice System.” Researchers interviewed more than 50 young people who had direct experience with the justice system and asked their opinions about various issues. They heard frank answers about why the young people got into trouble and what could have kept them out of the justice system.
The report asks schools to reform discipline policies and revise curricula, and it recommends changes to court-related fees and restitution policies, which leave some youth trapped in the system.
The ability of the foundation staff and researchers to listen to youth in poverty and take their opinions seriously is laudable. This can lead to better and more-informed grantmaking in the future.
The juvenile justice project is the first research initiative of 100 Percent Pittsburgh, a new organizing principle adopted by the foundation to address inequality. Despite improvement in our area’s economy, roughly one-third of the regional population struggles with poverty.
The 2015 annual report of the Allegheny County Office of Juvenile Probation showed that 10 percent of children aged 10 to 17 in Pittsburgh Public Schools have had some involvement with the juvenile justice system. Also, 73 percent of referrals from schools, law enforcement and community settings to juvenile probation were for nonviolent crimes such as drugs, theft or failing to pay court fines. Clearly, there are ways to improve outcomes for these youth.
We applaud the Pittsburgh Foundation for tackling a tough issue and especially for listening carefully to the young people involved.